20 September 2010

Labels and terms

Labels and terms become much clearer when a simple piece of logic is applied to them.

“Labels are vital. Without them we would have no idea of what will come out of any tin or jar. But in our field we should apply with care.”

It is correct to stress this point and he goes on to give several examples in which misguided labelling can lead us astray.

At the point of being pedantic let me introduce a distinction. For every term, for example chair, we can talk about the terms intention and extension.

The intension of a term refers to all those elements that a phenomenon must contain to make the application of the term valid. Let us take a very simple case: a bachelor must be male and unmarried. Unless we can apply both attributes we may not use the term bachelor.

The extension of a term is the listing of all those phenomena to which a term can apply: in the case of ‘bachelor’ all the bachelors in the world.

It is fair to point out that this simplicity becomes much less so when we consider phenomena in nature (e.g. gold, oak tree). Nonetheless clarity is never lost by considering the intention and extension of a term.


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